OKLAHOMA – 14-year-old Jaycee isn’t practicing for a martial arts competition.
She’s learning how to defend herself from bullies at school.
“There is some physical things that come from time to time, but I get out of it because of Jiu Jitsu,” Jaycee said.
A new student at an Edmond school – the transition was hard for Jaycee.
It’s not something she likes to talk about.
“Girls like to gossip. Boys like to gossip,” she said. “It’s been ongoing. Different people. Sometimes the same people, but what can you do?”
Drew O’Daniel experienced bullying last year. He continues to tell his story even if it means more bullying in the future.
“I was a freshman when the picture was originally took (sic), and I did not know they had taken it,” he said.
A fellow teammate sent an embarrassing photo of Drew’s private parts to dozens of classmates, and that led to retaliation from others.
Drew’s mom went to Edmond school superintendent Bret Towne for help.
“What I said to Mr. Towne was that there is child pornography being manufactured and distributed on Memorial campus. It’s led to bullying. It’s led to fighting and it needs to stop,” Cara O’Daniel said.
The family also wanted criminal charges filed – but the DA’s office declined saying there wasn’t enough evidence.
“Before they even had my side of the story before dismissing the case. That isn’t something that should have been done,” Drew said.
“I felt as a victim I have more of a punishment than he did. He got about 15 days out of school, and he came back and everything was really fine.”
But it wasn’t fine for drew. He was put back in the same class as the bully. He eventually transferred schools for a fresh start.
“For them it was this small ordeal, but for me it changed everything,” Drew said.
Drew and Jaycee’s stories aren’t uncommon.
In 2017 the state department of education received almost 4,700 incidents of bullying from other students.
But they warn – that’s only the number of kids brave enough to speak up.
“We also field questions from families who are reporting that they feel their child has not been heard or that these incidents of bullying are not being taken seriously and that has to change and part of that then involves how we guide and train our districts,” State Department of Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said.
State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister admits school districts need to do more.
“Teachers need to be more in tune to those incidents that are being reported to them recognizing that any time a child reports to them, reveals this that that’s an act of bravery,” she said.
And Hofmeister says bullying not only hurts students, but schools too. There are more absences and higher dropout rates — a problem they’re working to address.
The airwaves are full of stories from victims. You hear them all the time. But, who are these bullies? The students who cause heartbreak in the hallways.
We found a brave ex-bully to sit down with us and explain.
“It was just a you know see them on a playground. Slap them upside the head and then go about my business or shove them in front of a moving swing,” Stephen Kerr said.
Stephen Kerr went through most of his elementary school days picking on his classmates.
Although he can’t remember their names, he remembers it started after one kid looked at him funny.
“I mean, reliving it is making me upset with my former self. Knowing that I did these things, but I wish I had an answer and maybe a time machine,” he said.
Stephen moved 13 times growing up. He was always a loner and experienced a lot of misplaced anger.
But when he moved from Putnam City schools to Yukon — the tables were turned.
“I got bullied. It was an interesting experience because typically I was the bully, but then I was getting bullied and it really opened my eyes,” Kerr said.
“Seeing what I had done to others it just made me even 11, 12 absolutely miserable so I said never again.”
Stephen eventually found an outlet in theater and finally felt like he belonged somewhere.
But even at 35, his childhood still haunts him.
“There`s not a day that goes by that I didn`t wish I didn`t do what I did.”
But sadly a lot of bullies don’t realize what they’ve done until it’s too late. Which is why the O’Daniels would like to see more teeth in statewide policies. Drew says the campaigns in place now — just don’t work.
“The anti-bullying that they integrate into the school system shouldn’t be this mandatory thing that’s just a power point at the end of the year. It should be something that is directly injected into the student body to where they have a passion for it. To where being nice is considered cool,” Drew O’Daniel said.
Now as a last resort, the O’Daniels are taking legal action against the school district and the City of Edmond.
“A lot of lack of accountability and a lot of gray areas on who’s responsible,” Cara O’Daniel said.
One family – now hoping to change an entire culture for others.
“I don’t want them to have to deal with anything like that whether it’s on the receiving end or a spectator’s end,” Drew O’Daniel said.
“You have to stand up for what’s right regardless if it makes a difference or not and to us what’s important is that we’re the voice of change,” Cara O’Daniel said.
We reached out to Edmond schools and the city of Edmond about the notice of a tort claim filed by the O’Daniel’s attorney. Edmond Schools sent us a statement saying in part:
“Edmond Public Schools is aware of a legal claim made by Andrew O’Daniel and his family, through a written notice presented by attorneys for Mr. O’Daniel and his family. We recognize that the public is interested in knowing the details of the events as asserted in the claim. There has been some publicity regarding the events mentioned in the claim because Mr. O’Daniel addressed the Edmond Board of Education in October of 2017. Nevertheless, district officials were unable to comment earlier because the matter involved federally protected student records. We are likewise unable to comment now due to the possibility of a pending lawsuit. Edmond Public Schools takes the protection of all students seriously. The district’s comprehensive approach to bullying prevention includes but is not limited to establishing clearly defined practices and policies, requiring staff tutorials and training, implementing K-12 anti-bullying curriculum and programs, and providing social, emotional and mental health supports for students. This approach applies and is implemented for students at all grade levels.”
The City of Edmond also released a statement saying, “The City has received a notice of tort claim and we are in the process of reviewing it. It is our practice to not comment publicly on tort claims.”
The State Department of Education posted several resources for bullying prevention including . You can find it here.
And for resources related to mental health, click here.